Strum Blocking

This is a technique people have been asking me about since my Rockabilly Roustabout video although it’s a technique I use often. But if you want to see how it’s really done you have to check out James Hill.

Strum blocking is a way of playing single notes with strums. You block off the strings you don’t want to sound so only one note rings.

There are a few advantages to doing this. It makes for a much smoother transition between chords and single notes in terms of tone and in terms of playing. It also gives you much more attack and makes it easier to play quickly.

The first thing you need to get down is how much pressure to put on the strings. You want to rest your hand on the strings hard enough so they don’t ring but soft enough that you’re not fretting them. Test it out by resting your fretting-hand fingers on all the strings and strumming. If you hear a sharp click like the first half of this MP3, you’re doing in right. If you hear some tones coming through like in the second half, press a little harder.


MP3

The toughest part is finding the fingers to cover the strings. There aren’t any hard and fast rules here, but this is what I do.

If the note is on the A-string and I’m using my index finger to fret, I’ll use my thumb to block g-string, my middle on the E-string and ring on the C-string (with my pinkie floating around as an extra bit of cover. Like this:

If I’m using my ring finger on the A-string, I’d probably barre across the strings with my index like this:

Just because a finger is being used for fretting, doesn’t mean it can’t be used for blocking as well. Here I’m fretting the C-string with my index finger and using the underside of it to block the E and A strings.

In this situation I’d usually use my spare fingers to double up on the strings as an extra bit of safety.

Try out a few different finger and string combinations until you’re happy you’ve got the basic idea. Then move on to the examples.

Example 1

This example is all down strums.

Example 2

Here we’ve got down and up strums. And you’re alternating between block strums and fully muted strums.

Example 3

Here’s the main riff of Rockabilly Roustabout slowed down.

Example 4

And this is the part where you have to switch quickly between chords and single notes.

Example 5

Finally, here’s the tab for the strum-blocking section of Rockabilly Roustabout


Example 5 Tab

View Comments

17 Comments

  1. Armelle June 2nd, 2010 6:55 pm

    Excellent post, Al! Thanks for the clear and detailed information.
    I’m going to give strum blocking a try.

  2. Jim D'Ville June 2nd, 2010 10:47 pm

    Great post, Al!

  3. Jeff / Humble Uker June 3rd, 2010 2:18 pm

    I guess I missed the test on this one. This is why you’re number one. Thanks Al.

  4. sam June 3rd, 2010 2:31 pm

    So helpful! Thanks

  5. Woodshed June 6th, 2010 12:11 pm

    Armelle: HAve fun with it.

    Jim: Thanks very much.

    Jeff: Plenty of time to catch up.

    sam: You’re welcome.

  6. Josh C June 9th, 2010 9:22 pm

    ahh woodshed please do a tab of rockabilly roustabout!

    by the way brilliant post.

  7. Woodshed June 14th, 2010 4:28 pm

    Josh C: I might well do that.

  8. Jimmy July 19th, 2010 2:49 am

    this is impossible, but i must persevere

  9. Woodshed July 19th, 2010 7:00 pm

    Jimmy: Keep going, you’ll get the hang of it.

  10. Jimmy July 26th, 2010 6:07 am

    do you think you could make a tab of We’re Going to Be Friends? that’d be cool

  11. Jimmy July 26th, 2010 6:10 am

    I still gotta finish all the campanella songs and mississippi blues before i’m reeady for the advanced section though

  12. Jimmy July 26th, 2010 7:36 am

    while im requesting songs and still spamming the comments (I will try to stop for a while) Sunday Bloody Sunday would be a good song to tab (at least the beggining riff)

  13. Jimmy August 12th, 2010 11:41 pm

    The only way i can start to even these is if i use my index finger to barre over tho block the sound. Do you recommend i learn to do strum blocks using my thumb to block?

  14. tooney October 27th, 2012 12:51 am

    Great explanation for a newb. Thanks.

  15. Woodshed October 27th, 2012 11:16 pm

    tooney: Glad it helped!

  16. tuck October 26th, 2013 8:47 pm

    Just wanted you to know
    There are still a lot of people learning
    from this lesson.

    thanks

    tuck

  17. Woodshed October 26th, 2013 9:28 pm

    Tuck: Thanks! Glad to hear it.

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